In a report published this month by the Dana Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), some men who have undergone treatment for prostate cancer found afterwards that their penises were smaller.  According to the health and science newsletter Newswise, on average men who complained of their penises being shortened by treatment lost a centimeter in length, but some patients reported losing as much as an inch and a half from the organ following surgery.

Some patients claim the loss has left them unable to satisfy their partners.  Others said it made them question the course of treatment they chose and left them wondering if they should have fought their cancer differently.

The percentage of men complaining about the loss of size was small (2.63 percent of 948 prostate cancer patients), and most had undergone a radical prostatectomy (full removal of the prostate gland) or male hormone-blocking drugs combined with radiation therapy.  None of the 25 men in the study who experienced the perceived shrinkage were patients who had received radiation therapy alone.

The study's findings were published in the January issue of the medical journal Urology and are based on a study headed by Dr. Paul Nguyen, a radiation oncologist and medical student Arti Parekh.  It is the first study to link men's perception that their penis has shrunken to a decrease in their level of life satisfaction, and to problems in emotional relationships and regrets about modes of treatment.

Nguyen said that the possibility of loss of penis size connected to prostate cancer treatment is a well-known side effect among doctors, but "it’s almost never discussed with patients, so it can be very upsetting to some men when it occurs. Patients can deal with almost any side effect if they have some inkling ahead of time that they may happen.”

The study recommends that doctors discuss all possible outcomes with their patients so that the choices they make in their treatment methods will be fully informed.

No measurements of penis size are taken before and after prostate surgery, and physicians' reluctance to discuss the issue with their prostate cancer patients leads Nguyen to speculate that the problem may be much more widespread than is reported in the survey.

“Prostate cancer is one of the few cancers where patients have a choice of therapies, and because of the range of possible side effects, it can be a tough choice,” Nguyen said.  "This study says that when penile shortening does occur, it really does affect patients and their quality of life. It’s something we should be discussing up front so that it will help reduce treatment regrets.”

The CDC says that hundreds of thousands of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S. each year.  In 2009, 206,240 U.S. men were diagnosed with the disease.  The journal Renal and Urology News reported on Thursday that deaths from prostate cancer have been on a steady decline in the United States, falling about 3.2 percent each year between 2005 and 2009.

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